Be Nimble and Pivot

By: Gina Thomas McGee, Associate Educator

That’s the lesson I learned at the Alliance of Artists Communities Conference. What does it mean? It means: be flexible, be open to change, seize opportunities as they come, change direction and forge new paths as you keep one foot firmly planted in your experience, knowledge, and abilities. Just pivot.

Knowing virtually nothing about artist in residency programs before attending the conference, I didn’t have any clear expectations about what I’d learn. The most striking thing about this group of arts leaders, administrators, funders and directors is how deeply they care for artists. They’re constantly asking themselves how they can foster and support artists. Why? Because they truly believe that what artists do is important. Imagine that. If you’re an artist who feels like you’re on the outside or that nobody is rooting for you, talk to anyone associated with the Alliance and you’ll know that is not true.

It was inspiring to meet so many people committed to artists and the artistic process. The love the messy stages. The in-between stages. The “I don’t know what it is yet” stages.  As a museum educator, I’m used to seeing art after it is all shiny, polished, and installed in the galleries. This conference made me appreciate the ‘before’ as much as the ‘after’.

I attended so many interesting sessions. I learned about international artist exchange programs, trends in philanthropy, community engagement, evaluation, and collaboration. I was inspired by projects like this. Oh, and this. Also, this place? As Tina Fey would say, “I WANT TO GO TO THERE”.

Now I’m stuck with a brain full of ideas. (Did you know you can make bricks out of mushrooms?! Mind blown.) I can’t wait to keep learning and put some of this new knowledge to work in Akron.

Here I am rambling on about an art conference and haven’t shared any images? Unacceptable.

Here are some highlights:

I loved this sculpture on view as part of  Zero1 Garage’s Patent Pending exhibition. You touch that fluff ball and the light bulb lights up. Love it.

The artists of Fallen Fruit. You NEED to check out their work. It is all kinds of awesome.


The Palo Alto Art Center. I want to take all of their classes.


Sunshine(!) at Café Strich, who kept us fed after hours of using our brains.


A real highlight of the conference was visiting the Montalvo Arts Center. Nestled in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, this place is strikingly beautiful. Our group was greeted with pizzas made by their culinary artist (when can I move in?) and then got a tour of the cottages, where their artists in residence live and work. Fantastic!


Thank you Alliance of Artists Communities for putting on a great conference. Thank you, Akron Art Museum for sending me. Big thanks to the Ohio Arts Council for making it possible.

See you next year in Charleston?


Find part one of my conference experience here: